This month, the American Bar Association (ABA) will mark the 10th Annual National Celebration of Pro Bono on October 21 – 27, 2018. The event is not only an occasion to celebrate the efforts of pro bono volunteers but also a week to inspire, educate, and train members of the private bar on the importance of their contribution to closing the justice gap.
This year, the ABA’s national celebration has a special focus on disaster resiliency – a particularly salient topic one year after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, and one month after Hurricane Florence. This year’s focal point is training pro bono attorneys to help with legal needs that arise before and after natural disasters. These efforts range from disaster preparedness, such as securing insurance and title documents; to volunteering on a hurricane relief legal help line; to helping survivors with legal issues such as housing, healthcare, education, consumer fraud, insurance, and FEMA appeals.
In addition to the ABA’s National Celebration of Pro Bono, many bar associations, public interest organizations, legal departments, law firms, and others organize local Pro Bono Week events across the country that address a wide variety of legal issues. Some of these events include:
- a legal advice fair on issues including family law, housing, and debt relief in Bloomington, Illinois during the Public Interest Law Initiative’s Pro Bono Week;
- classes on topics from housing law to guardianship to intellectual property offered during LA Law Library’s Pro Bono Week;
- a free legal advice clinic by Equal Justice Wyoming in Cheyenne on civil law issues such as family lab, probate, real property, housing, public benefits, tax, consumer issues, and debt; and
- an expungement clinic in Manhattan, Kansas, organized by the Riley County Bar Association and Kansas Legal Services.
Check out this map to learn more about Pro Bono Week events happening in your community.
Here in PBI’s hometown, the Washington Council of Lawyers has coordinated a coalition of private and public sector attorneys to organize DC Pro Bono Week 2018, featuring legal clinics, courthouse tours and site visits, and interdisciplinary events, including:
- Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic, which gives business and transactional attorneys the opportunity to use their expertise to consult with small business owners;
- Veterans Consortium Legal Muster Pop Up Clinics, which offer information, referral, and resources to underserved veterans;
- D.C. Superior Court Tour, to familiarize attorneys with the courthouse before they volunteer for a pro bono case;
- Medical-Legal Partnership Site Visit at a community health center; and
- Coding Justice, a unique event in which volunteers from the legal and the tech communities join together to explore tech solutions to legal problems.
The broad range of offerings ensures there is a good fit for every interest.
But wherever you are located and whatever your interests are, Pro Bono Week should be about more than celebrating or doing pro bono for one week in October. Rather, Pro Bono Week should serve as a jumping-off point for deepening pro bono work throughout the year. Indeed, many of the events are designed to train individual volunteers now so they will be prepared to take on a pro bono matter during the year.
Legal departments can also effectively use Pro Bono Week as a launch pad to grow their pro bono programs. For example, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.** recently held a Pro Bono Week event. Volunteers in the D.C., Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia offices received a joint training on how to review Innocence Project files and accepted files with the expectation that they would work on their file review in the months to come. The Pro Bono Week event generated excitement around an impactful pro bono project, and resulted in longer-term pro bono engagement that extended beyond Pro Bono Week.
Law firms also have made Pro Bono Week an opportunity to increase pro bono engagement within and across their offices and to launch new pro bono projects. For example, the law firm, Greenberg Traurig*†, has celebrated Pro Bono Week for many years. In 2015, the firm planned a jam-packed week of events, with opportunities for 10 of their offices to get involved in discussions, events, and trainings about pro bono. In 2017, they launched a pro bono partnership with Covenant House shelters serving homeless children in five cities where the firm has offices. Volunteers from the firm held on-site meetings at the shelters during Pro Bono Week as a prelude to holding regular legal clinics at the shelters moving forward.
With these examples in mind, volunteers should approach participation in Pro Bono Week as an opportunity to accelerate their pro bono engagement year-round.
**Indicates Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
†Indicates Law Firm Pro Bono Pro Bono® member
* Indicates a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory